Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Wadsworth Family Papers, 1833-1853

Finding aid created by
Rachel K. Onuf, March 1998

Summary Information
Title: Wadsworth family papers
Creator: Wadsworth family
Inclusive dates: 1833-1853
Extent: 15 items
The letters in this collection are from Alice Colden Wadsworth to her son and his family, who were early settlers to Michigan.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1993. M-2970.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Wadsworth Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Once widowed, Alice Colden Wadsworth apparently supported herself by keeping boarders in New York City. Her daughter, Susan, lived with her, as did Susan's husband, the Rev. E. Goodrich Smith. Much of Alice's energy was focused on distant parts, for her two sons, William and John, had moved to Michigan in 1834. John had married Maria Theresa Chedsey right before moving to Raisinville, in Monroe County, where they named their home "Theresa Place." John and Maria's first child was named after her grandmother Wadsworth, who was heartbroken when the girl died when she was about seven years old. A son, Joseph, also died young, but their son John at least made it safely through his childhood, and they had another child by 1844, possible also named Joseph.

Maria's family, which included her father Major J. Chedsey, mother, and a sister named Helen, lived in Durham, Connecticut. John also had family there, and a Col. James Wadsworth had been one of the first settlers of the town, in the early eighteenth century. One of Maria's brothers, Nathan Augustus Chedsey, attended Wesleyan for three years and then spent 1844-1846 in Marshall, Michigan as Principal of the Union School. He graduated from Yale with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1848, and practiced law in New York City until his death in 1895. Another brother, Charles, was at least briefly involved in the book business.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Most of the letters in this collection are from Alice Colden Wadsworth to John and Maria, and although it is far from a complete run of correspondence, these letters give a fair picture of both the anxious mother and the young frontier family. Alice kept hoping her sons would return to the east, fantasizing that once William became an attorney, he would "go into partnership with some friend in the city, and come and live with us." When she heard that John had sold his farm, she "almost wished that you would purchase a situation in Durham, that we might enjoy the happiness of living near each other. . . . Then I could often see my own little Alice Colden and teach her to love me." Years later she admitted that her sons had succeeded better than the young men who stayed in New York, but still lamented, "oh, my dear son, you fixed your habitation too far away!"

Although her son William wrote frequently, and gave Alice news of his brothers' family, months would go by before she would hear from John and Maria directly. The young people were probably too busy establishing themselves in the new settlement to write home very often, and even if they succeeded in scratching out a letter, the mail service was undoubtedly undependable. In addition to farming and raising a family, John and Maria were actively involved in the growing community in Monroe. By 1838, John was holding "many respectable offices" as a Whig, and in 1843, his mother congratulated him for "pleading the cause of Temperance, and forming Societies," and was delighted that in "every work of piety and benevolence, your dear Maria participates and enjoys." In a letter to Maria, John gave a lengthy description of how almost the entire Whig ticket, including himself, lost in the local elections of 1840: "I say never mind, because this child is not yet dead & they cannot kill me yet, I am resolved to be something or nothing -- & next year I will try them again, perhaps as Senator to the State Legislature." Although he was never a Senator, he did get elected Supervisor of Raisinville in 1843. Still an ardent Whig, he wrote despairingly to his father-in-law about the 1844 national election; "Henry Clay defeated by one James K. Polk -- let the nation weep."

The modest financial, political, and social success enjoyed by the Wadsworths was severely overshadowed by the deaths of two of their children. Their second child, Joseph, probably died in 1840. In a letter to Maria, who was back in Durham visiting her family, John lamented their loss, comforting himself and his wife with the words, "Our Joseph is, or may, be seen running about, & pratling the praises of the lamb -- Our dear children are not our own, they are bought with a price, and that price is the blood of the Lamb & the purchaser God, they are committed to us for safe keeping, let us discharge our trust, as becomes those who are to give an account." Two years later their daughter Alice died while Maria was confined after the birth of another child. The New York relatives send a letter full of heartfelt sympathy and assurances. Susan, for instance, wrote, "Grievous as is this trial may it be blessed to each one of us, and our beloved Alice be made the means in God's hands of drawing each one of us nearer to himself." The last letter in the collection is to Maria from her son John, busy studying for college, intimating that at least one child made it through the precarious years to young adulthood.

Subject Terms

    • Migration, Internal--United States.
    • Monroe County (Mich.)
    • Monroe (Mich.)
    • Mothers and sons.
    • New York (N.Y.)
    • Wadsworth family.
    • Widows.
    • Women.
    • Wadsworth, Alice Colden, ca.1835-1842
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   4, Small Collections  
    Wadsworth family papers,  1833 September 11–1853 May 3 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data


    • Chedsey, Charles
    • Chedsey, Nathan Augustus, 1821-1895
    • Chedsey, Major J.
    • Chedsey, Mrs. Major J
    • Smith, Rev. E. Goodrich
    • Smith, Susan Wadsworth
    • Wadsworth, Alice Colden
    • Wadsworth, Maria Theresa Chedsey
    • Wadsworth, John Willett

    Alumni record of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn. (Middletown, Conn., 1911).

    Alumni record of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn. (Middletown, Conn., 1921).

    Beers, F. W. County Atlas of Monroe, Michigan. (New York, 1876).

    Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, 1701-1898. (New Haven, Conn., 1898).

    Field, David Dudley. Statistical Account of the County of Middlesex, in Connecticut. (Middletown, Conn., 1819).

    Partial Subject Index
    • 1840 30
    • 1842 November 7
    Chedsey family
    • 1834 November 24
    • 1844 November 27
    • 1845 April 18
    • 1840 November 30
    • 1842 November 7
    Clay, Henry, 1777-1852
    • 1844 Novemb 27
    Elections--United States--1840
    • 1840 November 30
    Elections--United States--1844
    • 1844 November 27
    Middlesex County (Conn.)
    • 1845 April 18
    Polk, James K. (James Knox), 1795-1849
    • 1844 November 27
    • 1843 March 13
    Whig Party (U.S.)
    • 1844 November 27
    • 1845 April 18
    Whig Party (U.S.) Michigan
    • 1838 September 12